PlazaJen: The Blog

Riding the Bike with One Pedal.

Category: OverShare (page 1 of 3)

A Tale of Two Christmases…

Growing up, Christmastime was always a mixed bag. Because my dad’s mother passed away before Christmas, and he would, shortly after Thanksgiving, go into a very dark depression.  I don’t remember my grandmother – when she died, I was maybe two? And we had plans to go to Florida to visit her, but instead, as life will do, plans changed. My father would retell the story of flying from Florida to Chicago with his mother’s ashes in an urn in a package on his lap, the elderly lady next to him cheerfully chirping, “Christmas present?” And in Dad’s typical biting dark streak, he replied, “You could say so.”  He would then describe clawing at the frozen ground, attempting to spread her ashes, not realizing what the urn ultimately contained. I’ll spare you the vivid description, but it galvanized me as a child, and basically drew a line around my father, his dark moat, he was not to be messed with in December.

So every other year was my Mom’s “Year” for Christmas. A huge tree, loaded with lights and decorations, geegaws and ribbons and red velveteen everywhere. The off years were Dad’s. I would string popcorn and put it on the ficus tree. We had this really old, and to me, AMAZING, three-dimensional ornament that unfolded from two sides of cardboard, revealing accordion-folded beehive-like tissue paper that once the little metal tabs clasped over the other side of cardboard, displayed a two-foot Santa Claus. That was it. That was his concession,  a ficus tree decorated with ornaments I made from colored paper and popcorn and an ancient santa that grew more delicate each year. His darkness got its turn. We tread lightly around him no matter what, and there was always a sense of relief when the holidays were over, when January arrived, bringing with it a new year and the darkness receded.

I felt that deep dark current come forth this week, as someone was trying to excuse another person’s terrible behavior, trying to justify their actions, that they were sure the holidays were hard for them, given some of their life circumstances. I tartly countered, “Is it a competition?  Both my parents are dead. Nobody gets a pass at the holidays and everyone ultimately has to behave.” I regretted it, albeit fleetingly, but it ultimately summed up in five words what’s heavy on my mind, and contributing to a feeling of isolation.  Both my parents are dead. It sucks. I’m alone. My party of three is now a party of one, when you look at all those formative years of Alternating Christmases.  But I also tell myself, I’m not a Syrian refugee, either. I’m not being raped or beaten with my own baby. I’m not suffering through chemo treatments or in an abusive relationship. There are lots of worse places to be and lives to be living.  But I have my own dark current (god, could I sound more like Dexter? Don’t worry, I’m not ordering rolls of plastic sheeting and dressing in three-button henleys) and I know the holidays are challenging for most people, whether they’re trying to measure up to a societal projection of perfection, or are coping with all the things that hobble our lives.

We never had big gatherings – my father shunned them – and weren’t close to other family, whether it was geographically or emotionally. Basically, I’m wired for small gatherings and being the best hostess possible. I was talking to my therapist about this – he pointed out that for some people, it’s not a true celebration unless there are hordes of people gathered.  Obviously for others, smaller gatherings are more valued.  Not having any siblings, I’m kind of out of my holiday traditions, even if we’d stopped getting together, there were cards and gifts and emails. Strands of connection.  There are so many variables, you know? As you blend new families together, as you go home to your parents, the dance steps and conversations and expectations and all that … history. It drives the bus, it plays the music, it conducts the orchestra. We have expectations we don’t even realize we have until they don’t happen, or the plan changes, and then we still don’t necessarily know what those things were, we just know we’re unhappy. Or angry. Or sad. Or all of the above.

All I can say is, be kind to yourself. Be kind to others. If you have a dark moat that rises this time of year, don’t pretend it doesn’t exist, because that only makes the moat angry.  Angry moats want to rise up and drown you with lies and destruction. Acknowledge your moat, even sit with it at times. Because it’s just part of the whole thing. Say some of the things that hurt the most out loud. When I finally said, “I miss my mom,” it was like the dam broke. And it hurt and I cried, and I felt confused, because we had our issues with each other, but those fine strands of connection I maintained are gone, now that she is gone, and this year more than last year, I feel the holes they left behind, and what those holes are connected to inside of me, my expectations, my dreams, my sadness, my history.  And even in my loneliest moment, I am trying to say, over and over, until it feels true, “I am enough.” My heart is not there yet, but I know in my mind, I will be ok. If you have any of this in your own heart or head? I hope you are ok, too. I have faith that you can find it. We are enough.

 

Unicorn Blood

OK, so Charlie Sheen can yap on and on about his precious “Tiger Blood”, but truly, I have what I’ve dubbed “Unicorn Blood” – because my blood type is AB-, the most rare blood type out there. (Less than 1% of the population has it.) I want to talk about how this news has changed my life, but I also want to back up a second, because it feels kind of crazy (and ironic) that I’ve become the biggest proselytizer for blood donations, given my deep-seated childhood fear of needles!

Yep, I was terrified of needles. Probably had something to do with the fact I was always in and out of the ER for many winters in my youth, with alarming fevers from strep throat. And to say they were alarming is pretty severe, given that I was raised by a couple of people who would pretty much tell you to go “Walk it off!” if you had any pain below, say, “Severed Limb” status. I had to google what in hell kind of shot I must have gotten (penicillin), but whatever it was, I was already in Rotten Bad Place before we got there, and getting a shot was just short of being beheaded, in my book. (I got my tonsils out in 3rd grade, which curbed a lot of the spiking fevers after that.) Flash-forward to the time I was riding a horse in the dark, and made it go through too narrow of a gate, resulting in a six-inch gash on my inner knee (because the horse lunged forward, and my inner knee caught on an extending piece of metal. The horse knew it wasn’t going to work, but finally did what my heels and voice told it to do!). I remember barely feeling anything, because I went into shock, but was ROYALLY PISSED that I’d ripped my new pants. I rode the horse back around the house and started shrieking for my dad, who took one look and yelled at me to DISMOUNT while simultaneously lifting me off the horse. We went inside, he took a second look and almost passed out, and fortunately, the female half of the couple we’d been visiting was a nurse, who gave me a washcloth and we applied pressure while calls to the ER were made and much hullabalooing about took place. I distinctly remember trying to convince everyone it probably wouldn’t require stitches, RIGHT? we could just use some of those butterfly bandages. Because anything if it meant avoiding needles! (I ended up needing 36 stitches – 18 internally – and had narrowly missed a major artery.) (My mother made me show her while my dad stomped off to find the ER doc and when the nurse hustled in, she immediately made my mom sit down & put her head between her knees BEFORE even addressing me.)

So because life involves immunizations and shit, my dad worked with me on my fear, and told me before I had my tonsils out to just make a fist and dig my nails into the palm of my hand as hard as I could, and the pain I created myself would be more than the pain from any needle. To be honest, I still do this, not to the point of extreme like I used to, but have always found it to be a good distraction. And now, it makes me think of dad, which has a bittersweetness I will always take.

Last fall, as we all scrambled to get ourselves to “Silver Status” in a three-month span to lower our health care costs, one of the events was a blood drive here at the agency. I signed up! I could use the points, and I’d never given blood before. I even got competitive about it (disguise your shock, please), and was able to make my donation in about 7 minutes, beating our boss. And then I waited for my card, which never showed up – until I got an email, asking for another donation and that if I donated, I could get candy sent to me (or someone else). But in that email it had my blood type! Finally! I knew what it was! So I jumped on the Googles and researched it and discovered that AB- platelets are one of the highest in-demand donations, because they are given primarily to cancer patients. I needed to do this.

The first attempt was merely that – I don’t have trucker veins, you can’t drive a semi down them and even have a wide-load swing wildly. My veins are a little mushy and princessy and require a little extra effort if we’re gonna use the apheresis machine. So the first try failed, because my return wasn’t staying contained in my vein. UNDAUNTED. I made another appointment, for the main facility in midtown, because, well, MIDTOWN. It’s a slightly rougher-tumble part of town, and I figured at HQ, those people aren’t going to screw around. This time, my vein cooperated enough to make it to one unit. I burst into tears, because I’d been having a conversation with the tech helping me and adjusting my arm and the machine to get me to that one unit, and all I could think of was my father’s death from cancer, and how perhaps this small little unit could make a difference. Hopefully.

And then I made the next appointment. Each time has brought more learning, and thankfully, the people at the Community Blood Center are dedicated to getting it right. After all, platelets and plasma and blood do the very thing my daily job has never professed to do: save lives. We got even more learning from this donation, I got to the maximum of THREE units (and was euphoric!) and we know now even better settings for the machine for next time. Hearing from the staff about how excited they were to see me coming in, with such a high platelet count? That makes me PREEN for days. Yes, I have platelet vanity. Knowing you can give platelets every 6 days, I decided I would keep going, but at a slow lope, and aimed for every 3-4 weeks. Nope. Because they read the data and want you 100% healthy when you come in, so my turnaround time to generate red blood cells & more platelets is 8 weeks. (Yes, I called. I was convinced the computer was wrong. And while I was on hold waiting for a tech to come on the phone and explain what was going on, I saw that all of my units had gone to Children’s Mercy Hospital. I nearly lost it all over again.)
platelets

I have tried to explain this to several people, why this small piece of knowledge has blossomed into a sense of compulsion and duty, that I :must: give my blood/platelets, it’s not optional and that I hearken it to a religious experience. Because I was given this biology – I didn’t make it, I can’t eat certain foods to change it, I can’t “lose weight” and switch into a new blood type: it just IS. And what it is is rare. And vitally important for people going through what could very well be their worst time in their lives. Knowing that? How do I turn away? How do I say, well, I have this dislike of needles and all, and it’s kind of uncomfortable and it takes me 25 minutes to get there and about two hours total to go through the whole process, I mean, I have to do it on a Saturday, which is my weekend time? How do I say that and not be selfish? I can’t. I have something that requires a little effort, a little inconvenience, a little consternation and I can’t watch tv while I’m doing it because I have to stare with a furrowed brow and squeeze my hand really hard right before the return, because my blood pressure drops, and if it keeps messing up, we’ll have to end the donation. But someone else is waiting. Platelets only live for 5 days. Someone else, with chemo running through their veins is waiting. A child, with worried parents who are living their worst nightmare, waits for platelets to help restore their ability to clot blood.

So many people, just waiting. For unicorn platelets. Waiting.
For someone like me -and you- to say, “I need to do this.”

#TilItHappensToYou

I wrote this blog post a year ago. I’ve carried the words inside me for 29 years. I’m an open book but I can also be intensely private. This is my story. I’m tired of pretending it’s not part of who I am, or that it influences my life. Today, I watched the video “Til It Happens To You” from Lady Gaga, and it’s like it happened yesterday. I’m done. Secrets eat you alive.

I look at your profile on Facebook once in a while.

Holding my breath the whole time, I don’t realize I’m doing it until I click away.

Your cover photo shows you standing with your wife and two sons, smiling. The American Dream, right? The comedy of the picture, with a previous family photo of you all lined up, on the stairway behind you.

I look at those boys.

Awkward in their teenage states.

I wonder, under my breath and in my head, “Will they grow up to be rapists, too?”

Because that’s what you were that night. My rapist. Mine. And then I click away. Avoid.
AvoidAvoidAvoidAvoid.

The bell that can never be unrung.

The night started out fun, a typical college fall weekend, drinking and laughing and all of us running outside, off to the next party. We kissed because you wanted me, and I thought what the hell, l’m having fun. It’s fun to be wanted. But. You were too needy. Some part of me sensed this, had always sensed it about you in regular interactions. Somewhere along the line, in my drunken stupor – I gave you the slip.

Went back to my dorm, the room began to spin, and I went into the co-ed restroom. Proceeded to get sick. Then I heard your voice in the hallway, and froze. You were calling out my name, banging on my door. I held my breath. Then another classmate said, Oh, she’s in the bathroom. Oh.
How I wish you hadn’t told him that.
Why did you do that. Oh.
I pretended to be passed out.

Would you tell your sons how you got under my arms, and dragged me out the door, back to my room? I opened my eyes in the hall, saw the girl who’d given away my location, pleaded with my eyes. But it was too late.

In your memory, I bet you don’t remember me telling you “No.” It was the only word I said.
Over and over. As you pulled my robe off. Pushed me into bed.
No
NoNoNoNoNo.
But it was not enough.

Years later, a therapist would explain to me that the reason I metaphorically left my body that night was to preserve myself. To save me further trauma, as you hunched over me, barely looking at me, absorbed in your own triumphant conquest. Thank god for small favors, right? You finished, you borrowed my robe to go to the bathroom, returned, dressed yourself & went back to your dorm room.

And you called the next day. A gentleman? Hoping for more? Pretending that word never happened, that it was some magical night.

NoNoNoNoNoNo.

At least we didn’t have phones in our rooms back then. Every time you called, I just shook my head. I’m pretty sure the senior classmate across the hall figured it out. She was pretty perceptive, even though we never talked about it. I went on to join a support group for sexual assault victims (I hate that word, “victim”, oh how I hate it) and I listened more than I spoke. Then I moved on to crisis counseling. I would channel my emotions into helping other people. I would gain weight, because nobody will ever be able to lift or drag me again. That powerless feeling is one of the worst feelings in my life, and I don’t know if it will ever go away.

Today, there’s lots of talk about addressing sexual abuse on college campuses. I listen to it quietly, and sometimes, if I’m getting ready in the morning and there’s a story on NPR, I’ll look at myself in the mirror. And my eyes fill with tears.

Because this will never leave me. I made bad choices. I got drunk. I kissed you back. And then, even though my voice said “No”, my physical being couldn’t defend myself and I was reduced to a warm body you used to your own satisfaction, never mind it wasn’t willing. “No.” I get to keep that word. You raped me. Your word is rapist. And I imagine now you talk to your boys, as a father, maybe you even say things about respecting women and you’ve changed the history in your mind, how I was a bitch who wouldn’t give you the time of day after a Friday night hookup.
What a bitch.
Yep.
The bitch who said no.
The bitch who will carry that night of violation and pain with her for a lifetime. Oh sure, like all scars, they thicken and they fade and they blur. But what has been marked upon cannot be undone.

You took my power from me, and I hate you. I hate that you have sons. I wish you’d had daughters, so a part of you could feel queasy inside, maybe you would look back on that night and think, maybe when she said no, she really meant no. No. I even said it. I said it. And you, you ignored it. And you would think, I don’t want that happening to my daughters. Because you wouldn’t, right? I will carry your name inside me until I die, but I’m tired of the pain you caused. Tired of being fucking triggered by Bill Cosby stories and fucking movie scenes that eroticize rape and tired of badly-written books that glamorize an imbalance in sexual power. Tired of hearing words like “unrapeable” because a woman isn’t pretty enough, thin enough, young enough. I’m tired of being silent about it. I am, in so many ways, a force to be reckoned with and a strong, intelligent woman. So I’m going to own it. Yes. If you know me? You know someone who was raped. No matter what the fuck I did, what the choices were that I made that night, you can judge me all you want, but I. Said. No.

And that word makes all the difference.

(P.S. – I’m editing this to add that someone who is incapacitated does not even HAVE the ability to consent. My “no” was actually unnecessary at that point, but I have still clung to it all these years because with everything that was taken, that remained mine.)

The Beauty Myth/Mystique

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so they say. Does that mean we can “behold” ourselves, clearly and rationally? I don’t know. For me, the answer is usually, “No,” since I’ve got more than half a lifetime spent with criticisms and measurements and definitions of beauty that only revolved around a number on the scale, which can really torque with the way you define your own sense of worth in the world.

The conversation has been rolling around in my head ever since someone posed the question, “What if I have an ugly baby?” It was semi-in-jest, semi-serious, as the person has a friend with a pretty grizzled up baby with – as they say – a face only a mother could love. Is that really possible, though? And if you had the proverbial Ugly Duckling, wouldn’t you still love it with all your heart?

Growing up, I got a lot of, “Well…you’re ok from the neck up and the knees down,” or just an easy sort of shorthand, “You look fat.” I suppose now, I see if people will love me in spite of my copious extra adipose, or if they, too, will use it as a bludgeon and a barrier, a blight against me. Truth be told, I often find myself looking at myself and thinking I have a bit of a drag queen in me (maybe it’s my attitude seeping through), if only because I see my father’s features and having only known them as masculine, it’s hard to make sense of them on a female face. All I know is that it’s rather exhausting, and yet I still wish to be… pretty? Attractive? Somehow acceptable on only the surface, while rejecting the notion that surface definitions are the most shallow, that count the least, that in the form of rejection shouldn’t hurt, shouldn’t haunt, shouldn’t resonate with the old stuff I’ve pushed far below, because to have it out and riding shotgun is a horrible way to live.

The conversation at work grew painful, because my own upbringing, combined with that Upper Midwestern stoicism that tells you any semblance of vanity and self-worth are terrible character flaws, leave me feeling like the proverbial ugly baby myself, and I get defensive, because going through life having people eyeball you for being the fattest person at the nail salon or have kids point at you at the grocery store tends to eat away at the Teflon armor. It was even more challenging because my crankiness came off as fishing for compliments, and let me tell you, Upper Iowa Minnesota Jen wanted to run into traffic to escape, it was that horrifying. Anyway. I think we have to draw our confidence and self-assurance from more than just the mirror, but not necessarily to the exclusion of the mirror? Somehow throwing the ugly baby out with the bathwater feels like overkill.

So as the clock continues to tick, and the wrinkles around my eyes deepen, I’m sure of only one thing, and it’s that I have to be ok with me. As I am, as I was, as I will be. I may color my hair, use some products that promise to defy aging and peer at my face as I see my father’s eyes staring back at me, looking for what new mark of life’s process is stamped upon my skin. I actually surprised myself, because I was trying to figure out how in the hell my laptop camera actually took a picture and unprepared, I got one. This is me. Minimal makeup, no gigantic smile. Just… puzzling and thinking. I think a lot. Sometimes too much, but I still like doing it. And most days, I like me. Despite what all the old voices – and sometimes new – may try to tell me. Because the Beholder doesn’t always care, even if they should.

Pondering PlazaJen

Cold Moon

The 13th full moon of the year, in the last week of the year, only comes along every 27 years. When you reach middle age, and numbers like that are tossed around – you wonder, will I be here when the next one rolls around? Hopefully. Paging through my alumni magazine, I saw a classmate had died – last year. I can still see him, in his food service uniform – just like mine – and now he’s gone. It makes you pause and remember that nothing is guaranteed.

These nights have been reminiscent of the cold winters of my childhood, where snow covered the landscape, developing a hard crunchy crust and glistening in the moonlight. One night, a large full moon rose, shining the brightest light through the trees. My mother thought there were poachers on the property, and it forever became known as a “Poacher’s Moon”, light so bright that in tandem with the snow, you could read a newspaper at midnight.

Late, late at night, I would put on my coat and boots and go out to sit in my dog Oscar’s kennel, and cry. He would lean against me, licking away tears. Sometimes I just walked, under that poacher’s moon, each step breaking through the surface into the powder below. I push those memories down, leave them in the past. We all have our own rows and baggage.

But it is not unfamiliar. This time of year is always challenging. Sunlight is fleeting, the nights are long and cold, and the memories of holidays and the people we love come rushing back. For years, we only celebrated Christmas in a festive way every other year – my father hated the month of December, as he grappled with the pain of losing his mother. I would decorate the ficus benjamina with paper garland and strung popcorn in his years. No tree allowed. In my mother’s years, boy howdy, we had magnificent trees, trees that had been planted and grown over the years on the farm, acres of ribbon, twinkly white lights, everything coordinated. There was the same routine every Christmas Eve – no presents until every dish was washed, order restored, and then my father would still say, “Aw hell, let’s just celebrate Christmas tomorrow!” just to hear me wail my dissent.

Then came the contentious years, and more often reasons found to stay away, and then one last Christmas where we had a battle of Epic Proportions. That was the final Christmas we were all together. They divorced a couple years after that, and I just learned to deplete my expectations. Of course, we never really do that, fully – we still hope, we wish, we want to believe that people won’t disappoint us, that they’ll follow through, they’ll treat you with kindness, they will have the wherewithal to set aside their own demons to give you what you believe you need. We give lip service to the words, “no, it’s ok, I understand, not a problem,” while inside we hope it might be different. But each year, I find myself in a situation or a memory and the tears fall with no restraint. Always relegated to the outside looking in. It’s ok, really, it’s where I’ve always been. And as I pointed out to someone online, who voiced a similar pain, if you’re outside, and I’m outside, well, that means we’re together. So I know I’m not alone. Rarely is one unique in one’s woes, pains or fears.

Oh dad. I’m living your legacy, it seems. Every December winds down with sadness and missing you. It is, indeed, a cold cold moon. I look forward to January, and the proverbial fresh start. Each year I try to invest less in people who don’t reciprocate the effort, and I believe in the tenet “Go where you are celebrated.” Each year I recognize what I do have, what is good and healthy and positive in my life. But in the moonlight, December’s darkness, sharp air entering my lungs, I still feel every winter’s heartache.

Angostura Bitters…

The older I get, the more my palate changes, widens, deepens. This past summer, the Wo and I went to Plaza III for happy hour (he had gift cards, woo!) and I decided to try a Manhattan. I’ve never been much of a bourbon drinker, but I determined I liked it, and this past weekend, decided to make one at home. It’s very simple, a classic beverage – 2 parts bourbon, 1 part sweet vermouth, dash of bitters and a maraschino cherry. Stir, serve over ice, enjoy. I dug through our liquor cabinet, because I knew we had vermouth (but it turned out to be dry vermouth) and I discovered a bottle of bitters. My only association with them was that at some point in time, 10+ years ago, I used them in something and HATED them. I unscrewed the top, sniffed, and determined they smelled rather appealing. I used Makers Mark 46, and it was a nice adult beverage, the kind you sip and savor.

What I want to write about isn’t so much about booze, or beverages, or even palates, but how we evolve and change and sometimes completely reverse our thinking on things. And the fact that what I want to say is going to be read by some as that of a bitter, uncharitable person. Truly not how I would describe myself, but I know that whenever you run perpendicular to people who are committed to doing SOMETHING or believing SOMETHING, those who don’t agree become easier to dismiss when we put negative labels on them.

In the wake of the shootings in CT, the knitting community sprang into action. Groups were formed, for knitted (and crocheted!) items must be sent to the children. The families. Hell, let’s send things to the whole town, everyone who was touched by the tragedy. And the former YES LET US KNIT FOR THEM in me showed up absent. No. I don’t want to knit a toy for the child who shut their eyes as they were led past the bodies of their classmates. That will not fix this, and no matter how much love and tears I pour into a project like that, in the end, that process is for me. Not them. And we all are trying to find our way, I get it, and what happened was horrible, mind-boggling, devastating. We seek answers and comfort in the familiar and in service. But I kept finding my brain wandering back to something I’d learned about the Jewish faith years ago, the notion that the highest form of tzedakah (charity) is a gift that is given with no knowledge of the donor, in such a way that does not denigrate the recipient. In other words, anonymous.

And that led me to another branch on the thought tree, and that is the concept of anonymity and its ever-dwindling presence. In the days of social media and Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, we are encouraged to share the most mundane of thoughts, rewarded in our Skinner-box with the clicks of “Likes” and comments, how many people will like my picture? And I don’t think there’s anything categorically wrong with it, we are human beings who desire connection, no matter how many electronic devices we own, we still crave the most basic togetherness, to be monkeys in the tree tops, grooming and petting each other, looking for fleas. The internet lets us have something parallel, in a non-touching cyberspace, where we can find more like-minded folk, hobbies and politics and interests uniting faces that would have lived entire lives without knowing each other fifty years ago.

So what do all these random thoughts mean? I’m not sure. I don’t mean to tear down the well-intended, because 15 years ago, that would have been me in spades, leaping into some sort of action that would soothe my raw heart. But in my head and heart, I now find myself uncomfortable, unwilling to participate. And certainly, what is a blog if not an indulgence in one’s own narcissism, the idea that the words I string together are worth someone else’s time to read? That somehow I might change someone or improve their world with my humor or musings? If anything, this is more of a self-observation, that over time we can change how we express ourselves, how we choose to process things. And our experiences, too. I participated in a big afghan donation project several years back, only to learn later that the blankets were received more with a shrug and a “hm, ok,” than an outpouring of appreciation for the effort that had gone into every stitch. We project our love of our craft onto others, and expect (or at least hope) they will cry with delight and admiration that we took the time to make this for them, because we know how much went into the item. The love in every loop, the skills honed over the years to create something beautiful and unique. Some people? Really just drive around the parking lot, with the windows down and the system up & just don’t give a fuck, to paraphrase Eminem.

In the end, I return to the tzedakah, and ask you to consider what charity means to you. What it means to you in the middle of the night, when you are alone in your head, there’s nobody watching, there’s no internet access, no “like” or “agree” buttons. And then do what you need to do, because some of these nights have been very cold and dark of late.

Stove Shopping

As duck season approaches, the need to furnish the “Duck Club” becomes more necessary. One of the agreements we had when we got this little house in S. Missouri was that the appliances in our house here would move down there, and I would get to pick out a new stove and refrigerator.  (Ice Maker! Power Burner! The foodie and cook in me has been studying all the Consumer Reports reviews and making lists and perusing sales.)  Now is the time for the stove…. (the fridge will come later, the ones I want are not cheapo.) So I went out to Lowe’s last night, having identified the top CR pick lined up with the one I wanted – and it was on sale.

The Appliances section was empty, except for one worker, we’ll call him Bill. Names have been changed to protect the…guilty? In this day and age when you put something on the internet, it has so many ways of biting you in the ass… Anyway, Bill asks if I need help and remains glued to his computer while I wander around – note to Lowe’s, it would be sensible if you arranged all the stoves by electric and gas; I don’t know that many people walk in the door waffling between the two. Bottom line, I can’t find the model I want, even though it was listed as in-stock online. I finally circle back to Bill, and he agrees to look it up on the computer.

Now, because of where the monitor is, and complicated by what appears to be an extremely lazy eye, I suddenly become acutely aware that Bill may just be looking at the far right side of his screen, but instead, is actually ogling my boobs. Sigh. After I edge around to view his screen and change where I’m standing, that question gets answered pretty quickly.

Apparently, my tits are the primary shopper in the room.

So, on it goes, it would seem that Lowe’s does this little thing where they stock shit in a distribution center, and they can deliver within 7-10 days, which is not going to fit my schedule, as I can not imagine going without a stove for that long, not during Soup Weather! There’s only so much you can do with a crockpot. Bill discovers that there is one single location in the metro that has this stove in-stock (after I mention that Nebraska Furniture Mart has the same make/model at the same price point.) He tries to call them, gets caught in a circular loop, and throughout the entire fifteen minutes I’m waiting, all of this information is being conveyed to my general midsection , just below the neck. He does notice that I look at my watch somewhat impatiently (then I realized, duh, when you pull your arm up to see your watch, where does it stop? Right in line with the boobs.) and finally sent me off with his notes of the model & the phone number for the other store.  I walked away feeling like I needed a shower, and wondered if I could call Customer Service to get an additional “I’ve-Been-Somewhat-Violated” discount as part of my negotiations.

Instead, I got home, chatted with James during a break in his parent-teacher conferences, called the other store, got a very nice sales person who got it all taken care of over the phone, had numerous delivery options, and this weekend, I’ll have my new Frigidaire stove, with five burners and three oven racks and burners that will light themselves when you turn the knob and boil water in less than fifteen minutes.

James got home around 7:30, and as I was filling him in further, I noticed partway through my story that he was….staring at my boobs. Damned smartass. (He already knew that part of the story.) What is it with staring? I don’t get it. I think it would be so funny if women just started staring at men’s crotches. Like, blatantly, like this guy had done. Of course, I say that, and knowing some of the guys I’ve worked with, they’d see you staring and they’d take it further, gyrating and thrusting about like wild chimpanzees. WOOHOO SHE’S CHECKIN’ OUT MAH JUNK!  I once threatened, at a previous job, to really violate the employee handbook over boob-staring. The head of PR could not stop staring at all the women’s bewbs, and I got the notion that I would just come up behind him at the weekly agency Monday morning status, and essentially manually motorboat him from behind while shouting, “THERE BUDDY! HOW’S THAT? GOT IT OUT OF YOUR SYSTEM YET?” I’m not sure which was funnier, me shouting it to my audience of co-workers when we were out drinking or the fact I was grabbing my own boobs to emphasize my point. He was such a swarthy little pig. Unfortunately, he would have enjoyed it too much. Maybe that maneuver would have gotten me an extra discount on my stove? I didn’t feel like trying.

As my dad used to say, commenting on America’s over-obsession with the breast….”It’s just a gland, fer chrissakes!”

Happy Mother’s Day

To those who are mothers through their love and actions. Biology can define you as a mother, certainly, but it doesn’t mean you’re doin’ it right.

 

Mine is in rehab for the second time, claiming she’s “just a social drinker”. Clearly she is quite misunderstood, as going on an eleven-day bender, drinking after getting out of rehab the first time, and being confronted by your peers and colleagues and having to “retire early” because you’ve been “socially drinking” before/during work, why, that’s not alcoholism, it’s just being really, really fucking social. Life of the party!

To think I was worried about how I would handle her making amends as part of the Twelve-Step program.

Perhaps the one good thing to come out the past six months of angst has been a freshly-developed relationship with my uncle (my mother’s brother.) He is, in many ways, like my mother as I knew her – quick to laugh, optimistic, hard-working – yet not as plagued by his family of origin issues and at the core, a loving and forgiving person. We have had countless conversations, and I’ve learned more painful things about my mom than I imagined possible.  One of the things that I’ve done, through the dwindling silence after my father died, was to always make sure I sent her a card, note, email, gift on the main holidays. Mother’s Day, Birthday, Christmas. Many of those gifts were hand-knit items – socks, hats, lace scarf, etc. In my naivete, I imagined she at least showed them off and told people they were from me. What a fool – letting my inner ten-year old hang on to that dream. Nope. I am not a topic. That one nicked the bone, I must say. A more neutral perspective pointed out that much of her behavior probably centered around maintaining her own victimology, for to be cut off from her only child works better as a sob story than ownership in the dance.  And a good reason to “be social.” That helps, but of course it doesn’t change a thing. My poor uncle initially pushed for me to visit, to help, to try to intervene. Ten years ago, I might have done that. Now, I recognize that I am powerless in this situation, and until my mother decides FOR HERSELF she really wants to quit drinking, all the rehab and interventions and talking will be for naught. I have learned from watching a dear friend go through the whole process of recovery, and while I’m sure she would rather have not had to go through it, I am grateful for what she taught me.

So, onward we go, and focus on the things we can control and change, appreciate the people who put in the effort, who talk and listen and support. Honor those who love you; remember to honor yourself in the process.

 

An Open Letter to Andrew and Dan:

In the recent issue of “Kitchen Notes” in Cook’s Illustrated, you told us all how AWESOME it is to cook bacon this innovative way: put bacon in pan, cover bacon with water, turn on the heat and let it go! According these dudes, the water keeps the bacon meat from shrinking, and then as the water dissipates, you just let it sizzle and crisp up and ZOMG you have bacon like you used to have in your Easy Bake Kitchen Suite, only your real-life bacon is made of meat and not rubber! OMG! This is so not how it fucking works! Let me save you from this experiment! Right after I go choke these foodie dudes to death with a set of circular knitting needles.

Because what happens is that the meat bubbles along in the water, and it looks nasty-ass and foamy, but you think, ok, you’re essentially par-boiling meat, it’s going to do that, it’s MAGIC, remember, and then? The water cooks off and you don’t just float into nice-and-crispy with a Zoey Deschanel ‘I’m-so-twee’ skipping move, no, my friends, you now see the fat start to render and cook off the bacon. Which is what bacon does in a frying pan. But what did we have in the pan already? Yes? Are we following? WE HAD WATER. Have you ever accidentally gotten something with too much moisture into hot oil before, have you? Do you know what happens?

BURNING HOT FAT EXPLOSIONS is what happens, that’s what. Good thing I didn’t do any tours of duty or it would have been ALLLLLLL torn up in there, what with the spattering cracks of pain and PTSD and the flashbacks and the napalm and the screams.

And, because your meat has absorbed water at varying levels, you will now balance hot burning fat explosions with the fact that parts of your bacon are charring while other parts are looking like parboiled rubbery white fat. So you try to hold the over-cooked parts out of the pan with your tongs, while the blubber tries to catch up, and you dodge esplodyness of epic proportions.

NOT FUN. Bacon, we used to be good friends. I know it’s not your fault. It’s the endless pursuit of foodiness and trying new things, but I’m never going to do it again and Andrew and Dan better never pop out into a back alley to get a quick smoke, because I’m going to be waiting. And maybe not with knitting needles. With a pan of hot bacon fat. We’ll all have matching arm scars!

Resiliancy.

I had been chatting with a a sales rep friend a while back, muttering about our equally long careers in this business. We’ve been through the ups & downs – employed, unemployed, good employers, less-than-good… In that conversation, I said, “Glen? You know what we are? We’re resilient. No matter how many times we get knocked down, challenged by what life throws our way, we just get back up and keep on walkin’.” And that’s really what it’s all about in the end, isn’t it? How we choose to act in the face of adversity, and the graciousness with which we accept the bounty that is earned and given to us.

I started my new job last week. You always have your first set of challenges – how do I dial the phone? Will I remember anyone’s name tomorrow? And then the real work begins, and yes, I’m in the early glow of New Job! New Challenges!, life is good, I love the work I’ve been given to do, and am going to be working with a great group of people – at my job, my clients, and my vendor partners. On that first day, I also got a curve ball: my uncle -I haven’t seen or spoken with in ten years- called to ask if my mother was with me, because she was missing. Had been missing since the previous Wednesday.

Long story short, her drinking had escalated. Now, mind you, the parents I grew up with? Rarely over-indulged in alcohol. Everything in moderation. I could count on one hand the number of times I’d seen my mom even tipsy. I knew that her drinking had increased as their marriage declined, and there had been a rather dire incident after the divorce, where her consumption of 750ml of vodka left her hospitalized with a 0.48 Blood Alcohol level, and at that time – 10 years ago – I got her enrolled in Hazelden, working with her hospital social worker, but in the end, she wriggled out of it. I threw my hands in the air. We’re stubborn, both of us, but I’m smart enough to know when the effort is wasted. If there’s one thing I learned from my own childhood, it’s that you cannot change another person, no matter how hard you try.

This – this was something new. My uncle was worried, and I quickly became worried as well. She was reported as a missing person. Endangered to herself. Somewhere out there with her car, and a cell phone that had been turned off. No bank account activity. No word from a single friend back home.

The days went by. Conversations with a Chief Deputy, confirming the national APB that was now out. Paperwork was filed to begin accessing her credit cards, hoping for some sort of indication – anything – that would tell us she was at least alive. I’ve never been through something like that before. I hope I never have to go through it again. Staring at pages online of other faces, people who vanished and gone for years, wondering if this was the future for me. Fearing a terrible accident, so devastating her car had left the road and was hidden in a thicket somewhere, somehow invisible, was she hurt, was she dead. Was she dead. Would we ever know.

Thankfully, last Sunday, a sharp-eyed cop in a nearby city spotted the make and model of my mother’s car, in the parking lot of a motel. Ran the plates, got a hit. Found.

Eleven days, ten nights. Sounds like my dream of a vacation, preferably in Tahiti. She spent it in a blackout, ordering food and pouring alcohol into her body. I feel strangely detached, just writing and sharing that. It’s in sharp contrast to the high anxiety from last week, that’s for sure. I don’t know who that person is, the one with a car full of beer cans and wine bottles, driving drunk and risking her life as well as others’. It’s not really detachment, I suppose. It’s the fortress I built long ago, appearing out of the mist. Reminding me that I put up these walls to protect myself from a different dynamic. And even from that distance, I do love her. I wish things could be different, of course, but right now, her journey needs to focus on herself. She was hospitalized, agreed to enter rehab, and yesterday, she entered a facility where I hope she can start her life anew in different direction. I feel old. Older than her. Older than everyone involved in this. Perhaps because I see my utter powerlessness. There are only so many times you can try to do the work for someone else before you see you’re carrying water in a sieve. I quit clocking in next to Sisyphus a long time ago.

That said. If anyone can do it, it’s her. After all, she was the one with the indomitable spirit my whole childhood, digging in her heels, getting back on the horse that threw her, no job nor mountain too big to be tackled. I hope she can find that resiliency and optimism she so carefully cultivated in me.

Me? It’s been a rough couple of weeks.

But I’m good. It’s good.

Many thanks to be given.

Much terrain to survey.

Miles to go before I sleep.

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